Questions About the Breeding of Animals

An introduction by R. B. Freeman

This is the first of Darwin's printed questionnaires. He bombarded his friends and acquaintances with demands for information and specimens, and, at least twice, perhaps three times, printed lists of questions for wider distribution. It is an unsatisfactory method of collecting scientific information, but, at least, his questions were on the whole objective. The answers obtained were intended for his large book on species, which was never published; they eventually became incorporated in Variation under domestication, 1868.

The questions form a quarto pamphlet with no title page, just a dropped title on the first page of the text; but it has the author's name and address at the end of the text on p. 8, 'C. Darwin./12, Upper Gower Street, London.' It is a single sheet, folded in quarto, sewn in the fold, with the printed surface, 90 mm wide, lying on the inner half of each page, leaving the outer half for the answers. The text consists of twenty-one numbered paragraphs, most of them containing more than one question, forty-four question marks in all. Only two copies are known to survive. One, in the University Library, Cambridge, which came with the Robin Darwin deposit and was acquired by the Library in February 1976, is in its original state uncut. The other, cut and bound, is in the Zoological Library of the British Museum (Natural History): it was bought from John Wheldon & Co. on May 19th 1909. The Cambridge copy has the answers to nineteen of the paragraphs entered on it by George Toilet, dated May 10. The Library also holds a set of five answers, not on a copy of the pamphlet, by R. S. Ford dated May 6. The British Museum (Natural History) copy is virgin. Toilet, of Betley Hall, Staffordshire, was a personal friend of the Wedgwoods and a distinguished pioneer of animal breeding; Ford was a farmer and manager of the Fitzherbert estates nearby. Both lived near Maer Hall and it is probable that Darwin gave copies to them when he stayed there with his bride between April 26 and May 13,1839.

Darwin's personal manuscript accounts have an entry on june 4th, 1839, which reads "Messrs Stewart & Murray (For printing Questions 2.5.6". If the Firm submitted their accounts monthly, as was customary, the dates can be narrowed to between late April and May 5th. There were printers at Green-Arbour, Court, Old Bailey, London. [Freeman addition from 1986]

The facsimile edition, of 1968, is reproduced from the British Museum (Natural History) copy and has an introduction by Sir Gavin de Beer. He concludes, wrongly, that it should be dated 1840 and prints this date on the title page. Peter J. Vorzimmer (Jl Hist. Biol., Vol. 2, pp. 269-281, 1969) and R. B. Freeman & P. J. Gautrey (Jl Soc. Biblphy nat. Hist., Vol. 5, pp. 220-225, 1969) have examined the work in detail, the former printing the text. Both these papers show conclusively that it was printed between December 31st 1838, the day on which Darwin moved into 12 Upper Gower Street, and May 6th 1839, the date on R. S. Ford's answers. Vorzimmer has suggested a date between March 13th and May 5th, but Darwin arrived at Maer on April 26th; late March or early April is probably correct. It has no printer or place, but was almost certainly printed in London.

Paul H. Barrett, in Howard E. Gruber, Darwin on man, 1974, has transcribed another set of questions, mostly on the same subject, from a manuscript at Cambridge which is headed 'Questions for Mr Wynne'. They are brief, ungrammatical and in places illegible. They could not have been sent to Mr Wynne in this form and are either a rough draft or an aide-memoir for use when Darwin met Mr Wynne. Nothing is known of Mr Wynne except that he bred Malay fowl and was known to Darwin's father. Professor Barrett suggests that they were written earlier than the printed questions, because if the printed ones had been available Darwin would have used those.

Darwin, C. R. [1839]. Questions About the Breeding of Animals. [London: Stewart & Murray printed]. Text Image Text & image F262

Freeman, R. B. & P. J. Gautrey. 1969. Darwin's Questions about the Breeding of Animals, with a Note on Queries about Expression. Journal of the society for the bibliography of natural history 5 (3): 220-225. Text Image Text & image F1923

Darwin, C. R. 1974. Questions About the Breeding of Animals. pp. 423-425 in Gruber, H. E., Darwin on man. London: Wildwood House. Text F265


From: Freeman, R. B. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d ed. Dawson: Folkstone.

NOTE: With thanks to The Charles Darwin Trust and Dr Mary Whitear for use of the Bibliographical Handlist. Copyright. All rights reserved. For private academic use only. Not for republication or reproduction in whole or in part without the prior written consent of The Charles Darwin Trust, 31 Baalbec Road, London N5 1QN.

Corrections and additions copyright John van Wyhe, The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online - National University of Singapore.


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